Last Christmas

Ah, Christmas time! Its memories never fade nor do they fold from the weight of misfortune. Sometimes, memories are all we have. Indeed, all that we need.

The smell of goose pervading my home’s every nook, and the prospect of a meal almost undeserved. A brandy cradled in cosy hands. The fire’s glow stoking the warmth in our hearts as my old tabby gazes – all lazy grinned – towards the dancing flames. The silent play of snow upon the pane, gathering fast on the window’s ledge, and the curious robin who flits upon it – a dear friend who I spoke to often.

All are welcome, I say. Let no man, woman, child or creature on this earth be denied the mirth so liberally served during this jocular season. Paper stars hang high from the ceiling; painted and speckled in all the colours of man’s making. Garlands of green holly and red berries drape from the chimney’s mantel, rippling between cards ripe with fresh well-wishes and a joy unique to the season’s habit.

Companions drawn from life’s each and every avenue – friends, family, those newly nestled into the familiarity of friendship – they come and go, bringing love and laughter, taking with them a warm belly of ruby red negus and my finest minced pies. The songs we sang; the carols and the ditties, the old and the new; each voice unique and an air to be admired. Let me not forget my festive, little clock; a gift given to me when I was just a boy. Every hour it sounds its merry chime, ushering me forward, towards another Christmas Day. I cannot imagine a winter without it.

Now that it is all that I have left, I would gladly trade it for a single pie or a smear of stilton. A miracle, and a miracle alone, can save me now. But then, the twenty-fifth fast approaches. The one day when such wonders are known to occur; when the workings of magical and well-disposed powers come into play. I shall keep Christmas as I always have, safe in the knowledge that I have kept it well. The storm may have chilled these lands, and taken from us all that we once held dear, but it shan’t frost over my festive spirit.

The clock rings. Another lonely hour passes.

My home was small; so poky that the warmth there stirred easily. That is, I suppose, the reason for my surviving as long as I did. With the door and windows long since barricaded against the storm, the chimney offered my only source of air. Through its stony throat the storm howled incessantly. Like the wolves who roamed the white streets, it knew where I was. It was but waiting for me to break my refuge in search of food and water.

I had all that I needed – a thimble of brandy saved to toast the twenty-fifth. My tree in the room’s corner may have died, but its decorations still sparkled. The coloured stars hanging from the ceiling mimicked a night’s sky that I would never lay eyes upon again; and of course there was my clock. I had counted down every hour like an eager child, and now the wait was over. Its chime rang in the turn of midnight and the commencement of Christmas Day.

Huddled in reams of cloth and as many layers as I could muster, I stared upon the fire’s dying embers. It was fated to be the last of its kind. All fuel and kindling was at that point exhausted. Its cessation did, however, make those final, fading moments of warmth all the more enjoyable. I awaited the miracle. Perhaps it had already come to pass. I had lived to see another Christmas. Was that not miracle enough?

Then I heard it – a rustling sound stemming from high within the chimney. I know what you must be thinking and no, even old Father Christmas knew that I was a lost cause. Besides, he was far too busy at that hour to be concerned with the likes of me. A loose stone fell into the hearth, blasting the black ash up in a little cloud. There was a chirp and a flutter, and before me there appeared a robin. My old friend had returned to me. Whether he was drawn by the flame’s waning glow or by the company of one as festively-inclined as he, I cared not. Together we sat.

I had not eaten for days. The fact of my stating this alone will guide you to a most ghastly conclusion. I shall confess that the thought did cross my mind. Indeed, there it did linger until my belly groaned from impatience. Could my little friend have been the wondrous gift that I had waited for so patiently – fresh meat to feast upon? Why, the fire’s heat would still cook its breast to a delectable rarity. But no, the agony of my circumstances and the inevitability of my passing were never so fearful as to befuddle the truth of things.

My friend was not intended to be eaten. Dear me, who ever uttered such a sentence? Nay, he was a gift far greater and one far less depraved. My bones cracked loud and long when I reached out for my welcome, meagre measure of brandy. I held it close to the last, lonely spark brave enough to live on when all those around it perished. We were not so different. The season’s magic had delivered unto me a companion – one to raise my drink to, and toast my final Christmas.

“May you keep the season long after I am gone,” I said to him, “and wherever your wings may carry you, I hope they keep you warm so that you may see many Christmases to come!”

The brandy was warm. It was sweet; quite possibly the finest I’d ever sampled. The last thought to cross my mind? Yes, I remember. Some drinks just taste better with someone to share them with. I let close my eyes, and whispered to my little friend a very merry Christmas.